Thursday, 14 June 2018

Major Minor? A work in progress.


As the UK drifts aimlessly, ever further out into the Atlantic, I was given to consider the potential ideological 'adjustments'- either imagined or engineered- that might soon come to redefine our
societal and political idea of what actually constitutes a 'minority.' Numbering unfavourably within an identified or stipulated 'minority' may well be perceived to be any of all things to any of all people. Given that we are all human the wonder- wonder is not quite the coverall word- is that there are so very many!

Should we search hard and honestly enough then I would seriously doubt that there are any amongst us who could not apportion ourselves at least one or two societal 'minority' labels, deserved or otherwise. But then, that's very much the gist of what I'm attempting to explore here; there are those 'minorities' who might consider themselves superior, and there are those who might find themselves deemed somehow inferior. There are those who are currently comfortably, and relatively-safely neutral, and there are those who might consider themselves to be threatened. There are those that might judge themselves to be superior whilst being considered by others to be  inferior, or conceivably vice versa. Some minorities may slot comfortably, almost invisibly, between the other majorities, whereas others are more likely to be driven to consolidate their minoritiness amongst others of a similar minoritiness. There are minority labels that might be proudly worn as a badge, and there are others that might perhaps be carried as a curse!

For myself, I would allocate several 'minority' labels, a number of them perhaps traceable back to the fact that I have always, in adulthood, considered myself to be a socialist. And, while this label does not necessarily afford me access to all of those other variable minority groups, it does perhaps afford me a kind of 'get out of jail' card, should anyone attempt to lump me wholly into any of those other groups- minority or majority- that I might find rather more itchy to be associated with, or so I like to think?

So, I can perhaps dissociated myself from, for example, ostensibly-white, passive-institutionalised racist gatherings that might occur within certain families. Or I can argue and upset the hosts, which is sometimes preferable. Either way, I'm 'out of jail!' Maybe.

It might be argued that, ideally, we should all just work harder at breaking down those societal barriers that currently help to define what is and what is not a 'minority.' But this 'argument' is, of course, currently and far too often just so much wasted oxygen, newsprint, cyberspace or whatever, because, as we all know, there are still those more-specific societal barriers which have been knowingly and aggressively built into our society, built up, shored-up and buttressed over the centuries, to define where we are now, which is most definitely... not any form of acceptable society! We could, and so we should, do our bit, but our's is not yet where the necessary clout lies.

These?
So instead, in order to properly respect and to preserve the identity of certain more worthy minorities, it will still prove necessary to 'iron out' other less desirable groups, both minority and majority, if we are ever to aspire to any sort of cohesive societiness.

One other minority label which I wore for so long that I sometimes find it to be perceived by others as still being there, even though it most certainly no longer applies, is that of 'vegetarian.' Following several decades of abstinence I finally relinquished this label whilst travelling through a handful of Africa's southern countries. It was, with some encouragement, considered that I should again partake of fish, as any wider-ranging national concept of 'vegetarianism' was initially unknown. I really needn't have buckled, but the break was anyway made. Further, I have since and again partaken of other meats, although time had already effectively driven a wedge between us.

I now find that I no longer actually like the taste of flesh, excepting that of well disguised, fried fish. As with other waverers, bacon I think I just might like, but the thought of further pig-sourced flesh passing my lips remains quite troubling to me. Thus, I invariably still eat as a vegetarian, which I am not... quite! And, I shop and dine out as one.

Restaurants today, some of them we may find, are simply bursting these days with ideas for the meat-averse-or-inclined customer. Further, eating out in the UK is no longer the worrisome venture that it once was. But, even so...

Just the other day I was shopping for something foodwise, in Marks and Spencer's food department, when I chanced upon one of the store's more revered offerings, 'Dine in for Two,' cost £10. The label so often draws me in- perhaps it's also the wine- despite it's habitual tendency towards minority discrimination. The minority in this instance being 'vegetarians!' Obviously, there will be other minorities more harshly excluded, but bear with me here...

These perhaps?
After a short search I located the solitary main course vegetarian offering, nestled amongst the familiar vast array of weighty meat-based alternatives. I plucked it out and held the lonely item betwixt two fingers- it was quite bereft of weight, just four thinly rolled spinachy sausages- glancing down to the various meats on offer, and ultimately to the whole generous 'roasting' chicken. And I was given to inwardly sigh! Little wonder that vegetarians often appear so undernourished! I might well have actually enjoyed the offering- it was a Marks and Spencer offering- but I just could not bring myself to condone such 'discrimination.' The item was duly returned to its shelf. Solidarity, I thought! I doubt that either Messrs Marks or Spencer noticed.

Marks and Spencer appear to have missed a trick here, as the minority that is the vegetarian also looks set to significantly increase its 'investment.' But, as for the socialists, the residual conscience of an ever-decaying morality-UK, whilst the interests would appear wonderfully ripe for a veritable explosion in numbers the media machine is currently battling over and above the 'call of duty' to ensure that profits continue to rise whilst everything else simply crumbles before our eyes! Thus the socialist looks well set for yet further targeted misrepresentation... definitely a discriminated against minority!

The size of this particular minority may, and so it should, exponentially rise to threaten even majority status but how would we ever reliably find out?

Other minorities to which I might, at times, lay claims to would, or could, be those of 'cyclist' and/or 'pedestrian.' Although I am also a motorist, which might, in certain eyes, exclude me from either of the harder-core inner- circles? Is there anything that might better define any minority than conflict with others? And there is certainly much animosity to be found where any or all of these minorities and majorities are required to share any given space.

In my capacity as a cyclist I have been forced with intent, and quite criminally, off the road. And I have been otherwise intimidated into cycling off the road, so as to ensure that 'busy' other road users might not be inconvenienced those 'costly' seconds. Of course, the impact of such intimidation rather varies, depending upon whether one feels somehow impeded or else in genuine mortal danger from, for example, the immense thundering wheels of one of the nation's more weighty vehicles. I have watched the road before me being sliced away to nothing by unconcerned or disinterested articulated-lorry drivers, who I absolutely know have clocked my presence, and I have exchanged heated words with other drivers who have then felt so aggrieved by my 'challenge' that they have additionally wasted yet further seconds by turning their vehicle around, simply to attempt another unseating.

Or these?
As a cyclist there are certainly times when the ability to swiftly detour 'off road' might be significantly preferable to this kind of additional conflict 'on road.'

Successive governments have continued to massively favour the motorist- sometimes seemingly any motorist far beyond even the next horizon- over any pedestrian hoping soon to cross any road. And, at least in partial consequence of several recent and ongoing changes, we now often have cyclists resorting to substituting pavement for road. Pedestrians and cyclists vying for dominion in an ever-more-populated arena, or so it often seems, whilst the motorist pays ever more handsomely for a seat at the high table! The clue ultimately is in the paying!

With an eye to greater clarity, whilst the above may, at worst, constitute justifiable annoyances- excepting those rarer truck and van-driver moments- few are so troubling as to warrant any sort of organised march upon parliament. There are already far more than enough of these queueing up for attention!

One might just as 'reasonably' curse the fact that one resides in a hard water region, or that it has been several years since it was possible to build a snowman, or conceivably a snowwoman, in one's back garden. Even our location, it would appear, has conspired to set us apart, but then are these not some of the joys of travel, to thrust one's hand into softer, flowing water, or to peer from the bedroom window onto a freshly fallen carpet of pristine snow?

Far better, and far less ironic, to seriously consider the nation's festering racial tensions, those of immigrant status versus those self-appointedly and 'more deserving' Anglo-Saxon types, or the UDP versus the open-minded? Maybe also the simmering class issues that are still clearly evident within and about tower blocks such as Grenfell? The divisions thread their ways through the social structure rather like a form of 'malevolent' human dry rot. Gender pay? Celebrity privilege versus the media's lesser mortals? Oxbridge versus those who might actually and more properly serve the electorate? Regional accents versus the queen's English? Conservationists against the 'developers?'

Or maybe these?
Religion, another one, may currently prove far more complex, often seemingly able to swim against the tide, despite the increasingly incontrovertible evidence against even its Medieval 'justification' and continued presence. Societal cohesion can only bring us closer, whereas structured division re-rationalises and reapportions our values so that all may certainly not be equally served! Ultimately, it's not about what 'the people' want/require/desire, it's far more about what one 'superior' group wishes to impose upon other 'lesser' groups.

The UK media- good riddance to Mr Dacre!- is expert at keeping a lid on things, but even this struggles with events such as Grenfell. Rest assured, however, that there are already great forces working underground to ensure that the current status quo will not be overly inconvenienced by such a significant collateral loss of life.

What Mr Dacre, 'the voice of Middle England,' was so expert at championing and at channelling was a well-honed reactionary pseudo-middle class, who often behaved as if brainwashed when the 'right' buttons were pushed. He and his types in the editing suite had long since recognised the value in channelled anger and frustration. Consider hard enough and we might almost find ourselves believing that double yellow line parking restrictions were put there to deflect from the wholesale racism evident in the manner in which (for example) the Windrush families are currently being treated. Mr Dacre would have known!

If we are to dig deeper, in order to unearth perhaps the very spinal fluids of the anti-nation, as with any organic neural network, we may easily lose our respective ways. So, it might be easier if we were first to circumnavigate the most ugly, that being the anti-nation's tendencies to lapse, during harder times, into such as racism, sexism and or class divisions. These are anyway well-documented failings! The UK may well (at least in pretence) wish to present itself as battling eternally to overcome these societal hurdles, yet it may at the very same time be devising more convoluted means to maintain the status quo. This much is known and is well documented.

So, let us instead consider those other, currently second division, minority partitionings that are even now consolidating themselves, care of our media machine, winding their divisive tendrils ever more deeply into the fabric of the UK. I suspect, what with * slavery being somewhat old hat, and other more traditional prejudices proving increasingly difficult to justify, that several twenty-first-century targeted groups have already been earmarked for 'promotion,' far more a demotion really.

These maybe?
The media, no more so than the Satanic Mr Dacre, has decreed that it should be the turn of the public sector, that it is now, and in due course, their fault that the UK is underperforming. So 'we' shall slash and burn and decry their being. If racial intolerance is so hard to justify and to maintain, it will instead be the turn of the teachers and the 'minion's' of the NHS? Is it not, at least in part, their doing that the anti-nation has fallen, is still falling? 

So, encourage now the fallacy that everyone is, care of one's tabloid, an expert in the fine art of teaching. If not an expert then at least worthy of a regurgatitive (negative) opinion? At the very least, given open license to lambaste the profession? The latter option may not quite have fully and openly manifested itself in public, but privately is where it truly matters, nestled darkly within, where the media may have slowly charred the soul.

Balance that, if you can! 'Turn your talents to shiny teaching...' and almost instantly feel and observe the lustre losing its sheen! Instead, feel the tax-'hyper-aware' public resentment, as austerity bites! The eternal pay freeze that will again and again, and as if through alchemy, lubricate the economic recovery!

But, in the race to the bottom few if any are so ideally placed as the developers. 'Carters Cutting Corners Quicker!' Or quite conceivably 'Cwicker?' There you go Mr Carter, or whoever, that one's on me, your very own TV jingle in the making! Of course, it's not just Carters, every developer with an eye, or half an eye, to the 'investment' sector will need to wrestle with yet more ingenious means to reducing the sizes of those matchboxes. Does that toilet roll dispenser actually need to be inside the door? If the bedroom door opens outwards, does it matter if said room is barely bigger than the bed? Surely this cladding is cheaper, shhh! With all the 'right sorts' in The Commons we can surely ease these process a touch further?

Or simply these?
The landlords versus the tenants? Another case of the minority subjugating the majority! So those investment homes are racing to change the UK skyline. The BBC, I think, devotes far more time now to selling the concept than it does to questioning the state of Britain's housing market; it surely is now slowly devouring its own tail! 'Homes Under the Hammer,' but do be careful, deregulation's made them just that shade more fragile... and smaller... and meaner... and more expensive... and less safe!

I blame the Fire Brigade, for not reacting to those depleting regulations fast enough. And, has anyone yet reasoned that with fewer tower blocks to 'protect' we might get away with fewer fire fighting resources?

Whatever the minority- it's numerically more 'beneficial,' these days, to go with a majority- the aim is first to objectify, then it's likely free-wheeling... until we hit one of those damned potholes! Dacre's off and Murdoch's not long for this world, we must hope, but watch and listen to the news- who's being celebrated, who's being knighted for services unknown? Which group are they in? And, once we've identified the buggers, that's where the ironing needs to start... nice and hot, please!

So long, Mr Dacre, champion of the 'we worked hard and paid in all of our lives' generation, your work here is done!

* Of interest and some alarm, during a recent family dinner, the subject of slavery came up. Even here (family) one might have been forgiven for considering the slavery debate, actual slavery!, to have been won and thus closed... but no! Instead, it was argued that slavery had, at least at one time, been entirely acceptable, instead that the debate had been reframed(?) The guilty party has worked, occasionally, upon a building site, cash in hand! And we feign shock horror when our news channel informs us that modern-day slavery is on the rise!




Thursday, 3 May 2018

To Debate, or not to Debate?



What with the BBC's Cameronian capitulation one could easily become quite wary before considering entering into certain 'more sensitive' areas of the debate. But then one could also realistically conclude that this is much the idea behind the wholesale 'renovation' of the establishment (BBC).

If 'we' first shut down the debate 'we' might next start to 're-educate' the people as to exactly what it is that they should be wary of- Fake News! Beware!- and what it is that they should assume to be just and upstanding. Viva la revolucion!

I have always found it alarming that more concern was never, in the past, voiced over the ownership of the UK's media. Surely, I used to argue, if the newspapers are all owned by vested millionaires, are the wider public not being denied significant access to a more open and balanced interpretation of newsworthy events? The premise was either resignedly accepted as 'our lot,' or else it was obliquely evaded. The term 'Free Press,' never meant that it was free from subversion, I learned, merely that it was supposed to be free from government subversion, although the label is, I would continue to contest, entirely misleading... and this almost certainly by design.

Beefheat to Mothers
With the global shift towards greater reliance upon the Internet, it was surely only a matter of time before corporate powers dipped their grimy toes into the waters- now there is 'global good news' and there is 'global false news.' For every minor indiscretion that we may unearth regarding Cambridge Analytica we should, I would contest, assume that a far deeper one will remain, for the present, unearthed. Obviously by design.

I was recently reminded of just how severe and far-reaching the culling process within the BBC has actually been, this via a prepared short statement by Marcus Moore, an ex-BBC writer. Of course, we have all noticed the changes- they are hardly subtle- but perhaps it is still the British way, too often, to loudly gripe and then to 'put it down' as yet another aspect of modern life that is profoundly disappointing, before moving meekly onward with our respective lives.

We might in passing perhaps question the fall of programmes like BBC TV's 'Have I Got News,' or BBC Radio 4 (and Miles Jupp's) 'News Quiz.' Maybe we are just becoming more intolerant with age, we might obediently conclude. Miles Jupp, his is an ironic Tory allegiance, isn't it? I'm not entirely convinced.

Monet to Wiesner
The shackling though is far more wide-reaching than just political comedy. Is it not worrisome that some of our better, often quite serious, comedians seem also now to have been negatively affected? During one of Jupp's 'News Quizzes' I listened to yet another (BBC) take on the ongoing-and-questionable Labour-anti-Semitism story. Mark Steele was present, and I had wondered if he might not chip away at least at the edges of the 'presentation.' Instead he was uncharacteristically mute throughout! To his utmost credit he was entirely mute, as if in silent protest, throughout! Perhaps he was reflectively weighing up any potential hit to his political following against that to his financial future? If so is this not suggestive, we might well consider, of something quite McCarthyist in nature?

If we trouble to look more closely at these changes to the BBC we might better understand this shift. There might well be a fleetingly-aired public concern, as there was when Kuenssberg was shovelled in to the role of BBC Political Correspondent. The concern is reported and then 'we' move almost seamlessly onward- the issue to then be slowly usurped by other news, and the system yet again shifts!

McCarthy was far too direct! Upon reflection he would probably have much admired this more covert and less iron-fisted approach. Evolution?

The Guardian Newspaper has, in the past and far too often, been the solitary serious, almost-consistently dissenting voice amongst the UK's national press. The nation's brief flirtation with a second more questioning newspaper (The Independent) proved rather premature for a British Public who have far too long been basting in Murdoch's secreted juices.

Mitchell to Salinger
But The Guardian, even by it's own admission, and at its very best, was only ever intended to adopt a more Liberal outlook upon the news. It is almost as if the oft-repeated lie that the BBC "is a hotbed of subversive Trots" has finally gained that more covertly sought after 'acceptance,' dragging in also the last of the doubters.

Many of us who are old enough to remember the Guardian from its heyday as the Manchester Guardian, and then its initial years of promise as the wider-ranging Guardian, will have watched with some sadness as this 'respected' paper has increasingly shown the warning signs of a recently-adopted far more compliant role.

Sensitive to the political tides, it would appear that the Scott Trust is gently easing the Guardian Newspaper ever rightwards. There are certainly a number of journalists on board who are increasingly selectively refusing to look at all the evidence before publishing. The current ruse for their fire is anti-Semitism- presented as 'wide-ranging,' but actually not- and it is a thoroughly anti-democratic one at that! The previous ruse, that Labour's democratic mandate was the wrong type of 'democratic mandate' lies tattered and now discarded, so a new cudgel is required.

Waits to Turtles
So, and with regards to the issue of debating or not debating, are we no longer free to question the Israeli occupation? Is it somehow no longer the case that Israel has illegally occupied the West Bank and the Gaza Strip? Are there suddenly, and almost as if by magic, no longer any anti-Zionist groups of concerned Israeli citizens who also wish to question their country's internationally-condemned illegal occupation of Palestinian lands?

For nearly forty years I have had the variable pleasure of moving amongst and conversing with many of a leftward-leaning persuasion. I have had the good fortune to have met many devoted souls, and a few less so, who have been quite passionate in their convictions as to what is just and what is not. In so far as I subscribe to such ideology, time spent with such people is often soul-food to me! I have hugged many, passionately disagreed with a few and been shouted at by even fewer! But I have never in my travels yet met anyone who would be stupid enough to openly question the widely documented and monumentally tragic fact of the holocaust!

Barrie to Chang
Even so I do not doubt that the hermetically 'safe' skin of social media will drag out some of the most unwholesome of comments. And I do wonder at the levels of 'righteous' anger that such solitude as this platform might seem to 'invite.' More concrete societal pressures can offer, at their best, remarkably sound safeguards against the most offensive thoughts- here such thoughts might pass darkly and fleetingly behind the eyes and then they are gone, to be usurped by the far politer expectations of societal acceptance. Whereas social media, rather conversely, may operate instead like the very worse kind of unquestioning springboard to those thoughts better left to more harmlessly fizzle out. Is it not then a remarkable testament to the evolution of the mind (most of them) that, even here, the worst of thoughts are invariably still so carefully guarded against?

Nevertheless it seems statistically most likely that there are indeed some highly worrisome comments 'out there,' one would only have to watch (news reports of) the acting out of some of our species unchecked frustrations to realise this. But I have watched and I have listened and I have yet to be convinced that any of those within the Labour ideological movement- either seen on TV, heard on radio, or met by myself- harbour genuine anti-Semitic beliefs. Perhaps, at the very worst, the occasional spontaneous words spoken in anger or frustration may very rarely have been less wisely selected?

Steely Dan to Sigur Ros
For those with a more rightward trajectory, however, I cannot say the same- experience and family has taught me that here often lies a more consolidated (sometimes) contempt for some of our fellow human beings. I would not in this posting wish to recollect the worst of these comments- again some of these may have been spoken in haste and may also invoke regretful hindsight- but the sad fact remains that these thoughts are so often returned to and repeated, or rephrased so as to disguise the otherwise-retained intent.

To return, oh so briefly, to the wonders of the Internet, the thing about social media, with regards to that capacity to upset and to shock, is ultimately that pseudo-anonymity that it offers. If Cambridge Analytica has taught us anything it is that data that has entered cyberspace is ripe for the exploitation of. So who best employs those cyberspace manipulators, and quite how unscrupulous are they prepared to be? In defence of an empire, how low, we may consider, are they prepared to go?

Neither do I doubt the capacity that the 'cleverest' of our spokespeople has for deception. Deception at its most cunning, and by is very nature, is much as described, that is 'deceptive.' So, where to apportion intent is not always the easiest, but I will, in an arc of shaky approximation, point the finger and know, with some certainty, that I will have caught at least some of the culprits in the cross fire...

Woodpeckers to Sunbirds
Firstly, I will return to the questionably honourable John Mann's ambush of Ken Livingstone, way back in 2016. There is still much mendaciously edited or presented footage out there, yet even here Mr Mann does not present as the most gifted of communicators. Under less orchestrated news coverage his shouting might more truthfully be glossed over, as the ravings of another angry tabloid bachelor. But this, along with any semblance of newsworthiness that might still linger, no longer matters, the (lack of) debate is no longer of any consequence, the 'argument' has effectively and subtly been reframed. The media and their respective and highly-selective 'reporters' are there- "Cameras, action!" Perhaps, instead we might imagine the call for, "Screen!" lest the public should spot the slight of hand.

If we can bare to watch the footage (LBC or BBC) we might first see something vaguely resembling a droid shouting and pointing. At this juncture there is no debate, because 'this' is clearly neither the time nor the place in which to do so. Mann, being rather less than the ideal Mann for the job, still manages to present much as a parody of his worse-kind-of self. Whereas Ken Livingstone- with considerable dignity under these circumstances- is given little option other than to bide his time and then to later debate the historical facts with, amongst others, Andrew Neal, Michael Crick and David Mellor. We might fleetingly wonder at such a narrow cross-section of political persuasion. Or perhaps not? We are by now racing simply to catch up! 

If we can bare to listen to the interviews we will hear Crick conceding that, "You may well be (historically) correct," David Mellor reiterating that, "I know that you are not an anti-Semite, Ken" and Andrew Neal, as is his given role, steadfastly misinterpreting Mr Livingstone's intent on behalf of any still neutral observers. "What are you on?" we can hear Mr Mann reverting to personal insult, in a brief and dangerous (for him) deviation from the shouting out from his felt tipped prompt cards.

Mothers to Who
We know with some certainty that Ken Livingstone is not an anti-Semite, and yet this debacle, we are encouraged to agree, might still be enough for us to somehow pretend that he is. The debate has effectively been reframed, and such peripheral things as honesty and integrity no longer seem to matter.

Secondly, we should look more closely at Ruth Smeeth MP, and the manner in which she is seeking to undermine 'her own' Labour Party. During the launch of Labour's Anti-Semitism Report, also back in 2016, it would be fair to observe that she had come prepared. Her contact from the Daily Telegraph had already handed to her the infamous 'prepared press report.'

She was surrounded by, amongst other anti-Corbyn types, John Piennar (BBC News), Kevin Schofield (Sun), Darren Mc Caffrey (Sky News) and Kate McCann (Daily Telegraph). To even imply that her early exit is not a staged one would be disingenuous in the extreme! Owen Smith, presumably no longer also employed by US giant Pfizer, was also there to prematurely celebrate Smeeth's 'staged exit  right.' Smith is now little more than a vessel, in the guise of maybe a pantomimish Bond villain?

So concentrated upon Smeeth's feigned indignity are the various sound crews that we can barely hear the condemned words of Marc Wadsworth. "How very dare you!" we instead hear of Smeeth and the chorus. But, if we turn up the sound after the rumpus, we may still safely conclude that Marc Wadsworth's words are far from anti-Semitic. Curious, is it not, that the media's supposed 'coverage' of 'Labour's Anti-Semitism Report' is so geared up for Smeeth's exit that they have almost completely failed to capture the words of the launch's speakers? One could almost conclude that it might be better (for the media) if the words are not to be too closely analysed.

Beefheart to Aeolian Harps
I wonder if Ruth Smeeth's declared expenses mentions anything about the Daily Telegraph? I really wouldn't know, I haven't bothered to check. Presumably Jewish groups who recognise this as a staged witch hunt are now the wrong kind of Jewish groups, spouting 'fake news?' "Weaponised,' is a term currently very much in vogue, and it would appear that we are currently spoilt for choice. Quite from where to best draw our 'perfect' illustration as to its usage?

The UK's media have thus reframed the wider debate, hoping, no doubt, that Jeremy Corbyn and his more democratically-minded MPs will be spending significant time fighting ghosts rather than addressing the issues that the media are so afraid of. So very, very clever... and so very typically unscrupulous!

I doubt that the circus will have manufactured enough to have yet expelled the anti-Christ, so what next can we expect?





Saturday, 24 February 2018

The Dream!



When we moved into our current home- after a succession of liars and crooks (estate agents, solicitors etc.) had rifled through our monies- our closest new neighbour always responded to our greeting with the line, "Living the dream!" And, he was!

In truth, we never seemed to have that much time to chat. He was always rushing out as we were coming home, or vice versa. And then he was gone! To be replaced by our current neighbour, who we also only ever seem to pass at a jog. This is in truth a slight exaggeration, as we have extracted the time to stand in one another's respective homes, and to briefly swap our stories. Which leads me, albeit momentarily, to refer back to our former neighbour, or more so his, "Living the dream!" comment...

It was only after he had mysteriously and overnight departed to pastures new that it even occurred. Of course he really was living the 'dream,' only said dream belonged to someone else entirely. So, he was maybe more sustaining the 'dream' on behalf of someone else, through the act of 'living.'

Important family members
The 'dream' appears as considerably smaller and more personal when we trace it back a full generation, entirely more outwardly cute! It was both a more collective and an altogether far more inclusive dream. It both sought to envelope the wider nation and its people- many more of them- and it sought to entrust them with its evolution. Whoops!

It was also a time of embedded racism and sexism, much of which was hardly ever- my childhood perception- if at all, challenged. 'We' had 'The Black and White Minstrel Show,' on at peak viewing times of a weekend, singing their 'joyful' repertoire in the background. Admittedly, I didn't know anyone who openly watched this celebration of U.S. slavery. I thought that it was odd- much like many people thought Jimmy Savile very odd- and perhaps wondered if there wasn't something better to view. I knew that my parents didn't much care for it, but this wasn't born out of any sort of political stance. Because, just like so many of my friends parents, they were undoubtedly quite racist themselves. For a long time not many people actually thought- again, my childhood perception- to openly challenge the concept of 'The Black and White Minstrels,' as a peak viewing time TV 'spectacle.' And, let's not for a moment forget that the aforementioned 'peak viewing time' was initially upon one of just the two, then in 1964 three, available TV stations. With pretentions of 'personal betterment,' our family seldom ventured into the more commercial corruptions of ITV.

Female family member
My parents carried this institutionalised state of mind to their respective graves, and really it was only in their seventies and their eighties that they more often 'saw' this perspective challenged, outside of the immediate family that is. I carried with me, for several decades, a sort of self-awarded 'badge of honour,' 'attained' for upsetting much of the large gathering that had come to pay their respects to my late aunt, when I sat in the middle of the kitchen and discussed the public sector's possible futures under the then PM, Thatcher, with the lesbian partner of one of my cousins. For an age nobody challenged us, nor did they question the sexuality or the ethnicity of the aforementioned partner; these were 'benign' racists, many of them, and for the most part quite invisibly so.

The merest thought that racism in the UK is today at all shrinking away is probably quite absurd; it's surely still there, deeper in the foundations, quietly going on about its business, unchallenged. The difference is that it's much more wary than ever it was when I was a lad, more tentative about raising its head too often, or too frequently, more likely in the 'wrong' company. To the eye and the ear much of society functions seemingly without any covert racism whatsoever. Much like it functions without any covert sexism, or sexual abuse, or class prejudice, or disability discrimination, or (less so) religious intolerance. But, scratch the surface, and they're all still there. Of course they are, embedded as the necessary tools of a highly-tiered, pyramidal society, to be kept sharp and shiny but otherwise out of sight and mind until they might be called for.

Chick
In reality, and should the 'dream' so require, maybe, just maybe, many of those 'isms' will slowly die away through neglect. Maybe they'll finally attain their use-by date. Maybe, some time, a generation or so from now, we truly will be a racist-free society? Should the 'dream' still be forging ahead we will, however, then need some sort of replacement, purely so that the hierarchy may be sustained you should understand. Maybe it will be the era of gingerism, or those with the bluest eyes may yet have their turn, or the baldies, heightism? So towering is our 'society' that those at the top will by then be breathing more rarified air anyway. They'll be nearer to the sun, above the smog that their 'dream' has created for 'the rest' of us. Perhaps the species itself is just a generation away from its 'next' evolutionary split? The Icarians and the Rest?

For those who happened to catch-up with Andrew Marr's chat with the new French President, Emmanuel Macron, the 'dream' may now be that little bit less hazy. Almost the first thing that one noticed was that he seemed to have a clearer grasp of Britain's place in the current world than do many of 'our own' politicians. Marr would ask a question of the President and he would gaze thoughtfully back, often silently pondering the wider implications of the proffered words. Marr, all-the-while, would instead be loading up his next cartridge, sometimes looking quite confused at the duration of the Presidential response. More used to bursting through any of the more challenging or lengthy contentions, Marr was seen to often stutter or be made to reload, as Emmanuel Macron steadfastly refused to be derailed from his considered answers.

It was refreshing to hear such a pro-European giving such nakedly honest answers, and this too seemed to toy with Marr's trajectory- much like a man who has elected to lean against a door which he has not considered might suddenly be opened. Emmanuel Macron, with a slight inclination of his head, acknowledged that France might also have fallen into the trap of Frexit, before going on to elaborate. Marr again looked slightly perplexed, this was after all a President with leftward-leaning credentials, time will tell. 


Stormy waves and clouds
The interview is currently still available (as of 31st January 2018), some of it, and it made clear several points which the entirety of the UK Government's Brexit Team have thus far failed to do- Dave Davis's ineptitude aside, which has never been in doubt. Much, as is the nature of the beast, is still 'up in the smoggy air!' But Mr Macron was heard to enlighten upon the issues of the single market ("by definition, less deep than today!"), and the unsubtleties of 'the referendum.' For those who may have missed it, Macron went on to address the issue of possible, or more probable, reasons for the UK to have voted to further isolate itself from, effectively, the world, and this within a global market place! At least it will have united the racists, we may surmise, the Little Englanders and the bigots, and, in so doing, secured a somewhat darker 'dream?'

Most telling, for myself, was the "freedom without cohesion" moment, the moment when Emmanuel Macron went on to cite the current policies and, most importantly, the goals of the UK Government as being too unregulated, too free-market! For all of its points of clarification- hats off to Mr Macron!- the occasion was more than slightly Marred, however; nobody had informed the interviewer that points weren't going to be awarded, although the smirk often seemed to think otherwise.

Abstract vacuum cleaner with colours
See, what 'our' Government seems unwilling to acknowledge, unprepared to consider, is that the correct degree of regulation actually brightens the 'dream.' Unfettered deregulation creates a market in which it's the missing corners that give the less scrupulous companies the edge, and those now-cut-corners were there for a reason, keeping people alive maybe, preventing injury, nurturing mentality, ensuring that the 'dream' is still one of inclusivity, not one of consolidating exclusivity- gated mansions and shanty towns? The larger the company the more correct it always is now, by default, really? The individual always must now default to subservient? Best just seal off that back door to legal representation for the minions, the shiny one with the Doric columns at the front is all we need into this far better 'dream.' Access the company's website- we operate a telephone-free interface- do you have an e-mail address? 118 118, do me a favour! We might well dream about these things, but they're not the 'dream' that is actually being sold, sold, and sold again to us!

In such a climate even the previously-respected companies will find that they're increasingly having to treat people with equal disdain... just in order to keep abreast of the crooks... "a race to the bottom!" Effectively we've started to regulate to make society ever-less inclusive, to shorten certain lives, to mark young children out as chaff and to ensure that they can't afford the wheat anyway!

Country scene with clouds
The disaffection is so palpable that one can almost taste it in the air at times. Whether people voted to struggle on towards a more united globe, or else to cut the steel cables and to contemplate drifting out into the Atlantic, where that more heavenly 'dream' surely resides, there is still tightly-knotted disaffection. Often the BBC et al will attempt to dress it up rather, or to tidy-up the degrees of disaffection, by slotting each grievance into it's preordained box, but this would be disingenuous. Often those that voted to better unite the globe are to be portrayed as being rather more satisfied with the state of the current EU. But this is likely so very far from the truth. Many of those who voted to remain were as dissatisfied as those who voted Brexit, I should know, I was one of them. I'd say that many of the Remainers have got, or have identified, even more to feel aggrieved about, because often they've given the situation considerably more thought... and still found it to be deeply wanting!

Each individual is just that, an individual, and as such will have his or her own reasons. For me, currently it's the manner in which this 'dream' is looking to 'embrace' the children. Should you happen to have strolled past Smiggle with a child in tow, you will quite quickly have realised that it's not the reliability of a pencil, a sharpener, the fastness or the particular hue with which said child is interested... no, it's the hypnotic sparkle of the otherwise redundant shell, or perhaps just the wrapper; the rubber does not so much need to properly erase as to be shaped like a pony, or a rabbit, or a polar bear... Hell, why not invest in the whole menagerie?

Build-a-Bear is far worse- in Norwich, Chaplefield, the respective shops occupy the same mall, rather like a pride of lions preying upon the unsuspecting wildebeests- here some of the staff genuinely are positively predatory; should they happen to catch the child's eye they're well practised at luring them in off the walkways; when they smile you can see that their teeth have been filed to points! In truth the actual bears are okay- at best they're just okay- it's far more the peripheral tat that goes with them! Why not also purchase a hat, a pair of boots, roller-skates, gloves, sunglasses, Hell, that bear's gonna need a Build-a-Bear variable rate mortgage! Attend the workshop, where your child/grandchild/nephew/niece may 'construct' their own formulaic bear and the hook has probably already been implanted- look at our sparkly wares!


Gull
And then there's the lovely Peppa; who wouldn't love Peppa, with her cutesie voice and her stream of moralistic lessons for the kids? When Peppa Pig came to Norwich- Theatre Royal- the seats were awash with happy children, interspersed with also mostly happy adults. With careful manipulation of one's pathway into the theatre one might even have managed to bypass the accompanying plastic tat that was on display in the foyer. The lights dimmed, the curtains opened and we all set about enjoying the show. In fairness the performance was always going to be okay, not quite as wonderful as many of the other children's theatre productions that we've witnessed- 'The Grufflalo,' 'We're Going on a Bear Hunt,' 'Little Red Riding Hood,' 'The Tiger Who Came to Tea,' 'Gruffalo's Child'- but still 'good.' We pondered the chaos that might ensue, as the children attempted to visit the toilets during the unusual half-time interval. Half time interval? Is there usually an interval?

And, as the curtains gently swished closed, so the interval suddenly took on a more sinister complexion. The 'dream' had pursued the theatre-goers inside, in to the auditorium; the aisles were suddenly transformed into a light-flashing 'spectacular' of the same garish tat that many of the seated parents-and-other-adults had so meticulously managed to circumnavigate earlier. No prisoners here! It was all going to the same Pacific location, anyway, but it still needed to be foisted onto the families first. Peppa doesn't appear to devote much time to this particular issue, during her T.V. life-lesson-slots.

Robin
Entertainment's long been in the bag! Whether it's the easy-betting route to darkest despair- "When it stops being fun, just stop!" It's really that easy!- or it's the longer road of pester power, entertainment's pretty much been bought and sold. Bingo, anyone, scratch card? We had, for the present- some of us- hoped to keep the children out of it, but your peripatetic and up-to-speed 'local' Executive-Head may well sell the school in not much more than an extended story time, before he's packed off to close the next business deal. You're either on this carousel or else the same is eyeing you up via your on-line purchasing history.

People have been led to 'believe' that they are party to some sort of friendly partnership, that the company or corporation they would otherwise challenge, or occasionally question, might somehow respect and cherish this 'relationship,' that it is a 'relationship' of mutuality... but really it's a 'dream,' far more nightmare than dream...

They're relying upon us not checking under the bed.


Friday, 23 February 2018

Try a Little Tendering


"I'm afraid that you can't get through this way. You'll have to go back and cross over back there!" I explained to the elderly lady. She squinted into the middle distance, whirled her stick about face, and set to retracing her steps.

Pedestrian access denied!
Are we nearly there yet?

"That perfectly serviceable pavement is out of service," I sympathetically pointed out to another lady, who had just worked her way around the tortuous detour, only to encounter one further barrage of orange.

"I could get through this way the other day." a frail-looking gentleman reminisced, as he pondered the insurmountability of the plastic wall set before him.

Unless you're one of these...
Bolt cutters essential!

Earlier in the day I'd skirted a full 270 degree arc around the store, culminating in a halting convoy of similarly bemused motorists. In turn three vehicles slowly manoeuvred the three-pointer, the drivers no doubt marvelling at how a singular exiting vehicle might have earlier solved the conundrum. I briefly contemplated ignoring the 'No access!' affront, before meekly opting for the pedestrian approach. If all else fails, I might just about be able to clamber over these damned things with a fully laden rucksack, I had reasoned.

Claustrophobia anyone?

As more than one person had observed, "The labyrinth often changes by the day." Even the staff were struggling to gain access.

"The store much appreciates the support of its valued customers," or something very similar was proffered, when I approached the customer service desk, with the vague idea of registering a concern. But, as anyone who has ever contacted 'their' council will know, any time spent upon a letter would be time entirely wasted.

Although an infrequent user, I am not a huge fan of the chained supermarket. But! I was given to pondering quite how much lost trade and income has been rained down upon my local Sainsburys in Norwich. I know, from my own observations, that there have been many less-agile shoppers who have loudly cursed the 'laughable' volumes of temporary street furniture. However, my concerns really are far more to do with the wider issues of road workings... or not workings.


Surely not!

For those who have recently joined a tailed-back half-mile of similarly frustrated drivers, along Norwich's Sweet Briar Road towards the snarled up Dereham Road roundabout, only to find, on any fine and sunny morning or afternoon, not a single high-visibility jacket in evidence, this rant may well be quite familiar. At least the gist may well be so.

Certain council employees- those who are not more likely to deflect or else evade, or get rather hot under the collar- may elect to point out that there are sometimes very good reasons for roadworks to be unmanned (or unpersonned). But still, this does not reasonably explain away these mass seasonal eruptions of orange-congestion upon our roadways, and increasingly our pavements.

Ahhh!

In the absence of a better clarification I consider it only reasonable, human nature, to speculate. Why, quite why, are the cones even there if the roads and pavements are clearly (often) fully serviceable?

I am given to reflect back upon Tesco's now widely known practice of buying up huge tracts of land, which then sat 'inactive' for sometimes decades, merely in order to prevent fellow supermarket chains, and therefore competition, from gaining proper access to the market. Thus, I find myself wondering if similar practices are not now being routinely employed here.


Seriously?

It has been suggested that many aspects of due governmental process are broken! I would go further and contest that, far from failing (as might be regarded by the general public), governmental due process is working just fine (as might be regarded by the soul-devoided individuals at the helm).

When, in some darkened backroom, it was decreed that everything private was to be favoured over everything public a ball was set in motion. When, in the same or a similar darkened backroom, it was decreed that unequal austerity was to be imposed... When, in some darkened backroom, it was decreed that democratic accountability was to be regarded as troublesome old hat... When, in some darkened backroom, the decree was thrown, like some vast and smothersome fire-blanket, over local councils- the fuller-process began, of course, with the devolution of monetary control- the prospect of wholesale privatisation and outsourcing of all services was set in motion. The primary aim was never to improve services.

Instead, it was intended to greatly increase the acreage of private pickings to corporate interest. Thinly disguised, in some instances, through tendering. Tendering!

And, in so far as we the general public are concerned, nothing soon looks set to improve!

In the instance of roadworks, the tendering process appears more openly broken than with other 'services' or items. I have been informed, and I have read, that the process invariably favours certain larger contractors. We could again speculate, with all of that spare corporate-cash sloshing about, why it is that this routinely happens, but this is probably here best avoided.

Should the process, as here contested, always favour certain larger corporations, and, should the tendering process 'somehow' circumnavigate the consideration of workforce availability, should this happen, then, theoretically, one corporation could end up with every contract. Imagine!

Theoretically, we might find our roads snowed under a barrage of orange barricades, awaiting the unscheduled arrival of nonexistent workers who would otherwise be slowly ticking off a painfully long list of cordoned-off congested roads and pathways. Congestion, already governmentally considered neoliberally acceptable, increases!

Improving Norfolk's Roads!

Delivering!

Grenfell Tower statistics.

Number of fatalities:
71 (officially)
Number of lost homes:
208
Number families still homeless or in temporary accommodation:
105 (as of 11th December 2017)
Number of empty properties in the borough:
1,399 (as of 18th June 2017)
Number of fire stations cut from the region:
3
Number of prosecutions: 
Still zero!



Thursday, 18 January 2018

Signs Preceding the End of The World.


Or, just maybe, just maybe, 'Signs Preceding the End of This World?'

For anyone who may have envisioned the world ending in a gory blaze of '28 Day' horror, they will perhaps be likely to get away with things relatively lightly, or conversely they may even be a little bit disappointed? But for others, recognising '28 Days Later' to be merely an Alex Garland inspired piece of popular cinematic fiction, things are looking increasingly likely to pan out in a none-the-less irretrievably bleak fashion.

To everyday witness the nation's latest initiates hurrying along the city's streets, eyes seemingly compelled to view that tiny screen as if life itself depends upon the clipped message encapsulated within, a non-recyclable coffee-cup perhaps welded into a free fist, one might suppose ourselves as a species to have already long-surpassed the use-by date.

They, that is the initiates, should know that a Pacific 'island'- several variable locations and counting- awaits the casual discardance of the aforementioned cup. Will the pallid light from the screen be urging them ever-onwards to the consumption of yet more vacuumed plastic tat? Who knows, rainbow images of the globe's selfsame demise might instead be streaming directly into that space behind the eyes? Only another 336 shopping days to go until Christmas, and already some of last year's efforts are most likely colourfully adorning our beaches. But, for the most part, it's very much a case of out of sight out of mind... unless one happens to find oneself travelling upon any of a number of the Pacific Ocean's busy cargo vessels. "Fancy that! Look, isn't that an old Jif bottle? And, over there, a whole cluster of them- aren't they now collectables?"



With regards to the 'recyclability' of those 'fist-welded' discarded coffee cups, the depressing fact of the matter is that they can actually be recycled. It's more that the willpower to have them recycled is lacking. Currently there are two existing recycling plants in the UK- I guess that, in our interlocking society of mostly smaller wheels, the bigger cogs have deemed it financially 'unviable' to expand this scheme. In the 'bigger picture' economic growth demands that we prioritise in a manner always most likely to benefit the culprits.

Maybe our current best hope is that these imperishable slicks quickly evolve, so that they might as a 'species' somehow be always drawn to those beaches favoured by the globe's most business-minded CEOs, other culpable business-peoples and bought-up politicians- from tiny acorns and all that. But, whatever design this new life-form is likely to take, it had better get a move on, Ms May and her cohort have plans to get 'seriously' tetchy with any offending industries, sometime in the next decade (is it?). Ms May has danced her dance for the puppeteers, 'yesterday's' crisis having been deferred, yet again, for another generation to ponder, thus also to be remarketed as tomorrow's even-more-pressing crisis.



We have bigger fish to fry, especially now that we are again pushing to dredge those sovereign waters entirely free from edible life. Car sales are down, so those hazy horizons may still be somehow marketable, but conversely the motor industry's likely secretly-screaming out for more built in obsolescence. Knife crime has once again blighted the BBC's daily celebrity sales promotions; quite how to spin this one so as not to blight future knife sales? The future's no longer quite so orange, is it? If it all gets too much why not take a stroll out to your nearest retailer, to avail yourself of one of those newfangled drones? What, you thought there was going to be some sort of safeguard in place? "No worries, we just sold one to Mad Mickey! Of course it isn't armed, do you think we're stupid?"

And then, just when we thought things couldn't possibly plunge any deeper, Carillion went and jumped ship! "It's PFI or bust!" Well, I guess it's bust then, isn't it Mr Milburn MP? And, how's that deeply feathered nest working out for you and your 'good' wife? We all hope that the quills are not irritating your pristine white CEO backsides- is that a genuine porcelain implant? Health service provision, was it Mr Milburn, no longer MP, squaring that Circle? We should all let out one almighty sigh of relief that the CEOs at least will walk away, 'untainted,' intact, oblivious! But, as always, never any the less wealthy.



Bad news might well travel fast but it does not, these days, always quite manage to circumvent that very last hurdle, that of the actual delivery. Hermes, Parcelforce, DHL et al might fight their respective pathways to your door, but if circumstance should happen to drag you away for more than a minute, and you do not possess a large enough letterbox, or perhaps your own personal staff- "Our excellent courier service cannot guarantee a more specific delivery slot. Will you be asking your employer for a morning or an afternoon?"- you may instead have to settle for a 'Sorry we missed you' white card upon your doormat or other substitute.

If we were at all cynical we might, at this moment, be wondering if 'our' government's constant undermining of the former national postal service- subdivisions, sell-offs and closures of local Post Offices- were not being driven by 'other' financial interests. Or else perhaps successive governments are attempting to worshipfully mirror the Pacific's garbage islands with some entirely more local ones, those consisting of the nations undeliverable parcels and packages?



When the UK mistakenly thinks that the ghost of some Victorian Empire Nation might better negotiate its own way, and the globe's most powerful man transpires to be rather more a child-minded sociopath, the more elderly amongst us might truly thank the fictitious Lord above that we will not be around to witness the arrival of that new golden dawn towards which we are currently hurtling. Except to note that many of those who are closest to death actually chose this pathway for their closest and next of kin. Perhaps the bleaching of the globe's coral reefs is in reality simply a quicker means of getting those ocean souvenirs dried and displayed upon the sales shelves? Give it another generation and perhaps a bleached hunk of coral might sit alongside a beach-found fossil, upon many a classroom's themed 'Extinctions' table? Something for the unqualified teacher replacement service to discuss with her Year Fours?

If we should for a moment doubt the journey's trajectory we could instead chart this far shorter journey: Six months after Grenfel Tower burned to its present husk, prematurely ending the lives of (we are governmentally 'informed,' as few as) 71 people, already the monied corner-cutters are flexing their foie-gras stuffed muscles and demanding that residents of similarly clad towers will pay handsomely to see their homes made safe. Not so much seeking to make safe as exploiting death, in order to turn a tidy profit.



Property mogul Vincent Tchenguiz and Proxima GR Properties are insisting that residents of the next potential mass burning (maybe Croydon Citiscape) pay £31,300 per flat to have their tower re-clad with panels that are deemed merely fire-retardant. Currently Proxima are charging the residents £4,000 per week for the 'privilege' of fire warden patrols. Is this not truly breathtaking?

De-regulation! No wonder it's the 'unstated' Tory mantra. That and 'outsourcing.'




Tuesday, 5 December 2017

Atacama Dreamscape?



Even now, as I start to tap out these thoughts, so it is almost as if I am still slightly unsure that I am 'actually' awake- it is 03:23 of a Tuesday morning. This posting may read as a tad self-dramatic, but I thought that I should quickly note the experience, before some significant detail is whisked away and is gone from my grasp. By the time that it is posted the 'moment' may already lie several weeks in the past, but at least it, or that vital essence of it, will have been 'captured.'

To clarify, I am referring back to a dream that I have just had (31st October 2017). It was quite so 'real' as to have left taste in my mouth and a sense of arid sandy soil between my toes and upon my clothes, a sun-scorching sting to my eyes. More, it was one of those dreams from which one may awake more than once, as I believe that I did, and to be left unsure that one is not still quite dead to the world.

Track to Parinacota.

I believe that I awoke at the very least once before, to find myself still asleep, yet also fully enveloped within the afore-alluded-to dream. Such dreams- I have not reliably had one so vivid since I was a child, or at the very least a far younger adult- may leave one so stricken as to warp one's belief as to quite which is real and which is not.

Atacama Sunset.

Elon Musk is undoubtedly but one of many souls to have speculated that we are far more likely virtual than real. "There's a billion to one chance we're living in base reality," he has claimed. At least a decade prior to this, Nick Bostrom pondered that we might 'simply' be, "living in a simulation," in which case of greatest concern should be that "our 'future selves,'" might simply, "switch us off." In its various guises the idea dates back at least as far as a speculative 17th century. Many of the variable musings as to the degree of reality, or not, that we might perhaps inhabit are not even those of the chemically adjusted mind... and who's to contest that even this mode of thought might not be some form of enhancement to significantly better our perceived understanding?

The Andes at dawn.

Encapsulated within this concept, we may also find a far more credible space for humankind's various guises for what sometimes passes as God. Would he, she or whatever then really much care which particular model we chose to adopt or to pseudo-worship? There is not seriously the acreage here for even merely my own ponderings upon the very tenuous nature of 'reality.'

Church at Parinacota.

Except to briefly mention a still quite vividly recalled 'moment,' back in the late summer of 1996. I had woken some time in the dead of night and had, upon an inexplicable urge, been drawn to the bedroom window- at this time I lived opposite a church, and within a village uncursed by street-lighting, so would sometimes not bother to pull the curtains closed of a night.

Flat plain
Having, in the small hours, just climbed from my bed I knew that I was 'awake,' yet I had somehow carried with me some fragment of the 'dream' from which I had just awoken. Lit by the moon, the church opposite had been transformed into a 17th century (another 17th Century reference?) white-washed Chilean church, and all about its walls had been the gently-ruminating, dusty Atacama Desert. I still well recall being both fascinated and perplexed, unsure whether to somehow further explore this phenomenon, or else to ease myself back into that 'real' world?

Andean Sunset.

To commit the experience properly to paper is and has always proven quite impossible, a credible explanation also requires being able to search within my pleading face and eyes, to be assaulted by my insistent voice. Even then I doubt I would be properly believed. It was as if I had somehow woken into a moment which was untethered, neither of this world nor of that one. A listener, or reader, would surely assign the moment to one of perhaps sleepwalking, or else to some such other similar category. But there would surely have to be left just that tiny element of uncertainty?

So, round-about-the-houses, and back to 'last night's' dream.

Chungara.

This alternate reality took me back, again, some twenty-now-years to that same holiday in Chile. I was again at altitude upon the volcanic plains about Mount Parinacota, secreted within the Lauca National Park. The altitude sickness, which incidentally has pursued me from dream to this reality, was with me, the taste of vomit still unfresh upon my tongue. A couple of concerned Israeli fellow travellers had earlier expressed much concern when I had opted to be dropped off at the sandy junction to some half covered track, seemingly in the middle of nowhere. But also there was this wild excitement at having found myself, during the following days, seemingly almost-virtually alone at some 4,500 metres, fully immersed within a cornucopia of Andean wonderment. There was the constant presence of arid soil between my toes, the dust in my eyes and upon my clothes, a sun-tightened feel to my face and a certain altitudinous wild sensation that lingered about my nostrils.

I had daily risen prior to the sun, whilst its presence was just barely evident at the eastern horizon, and I had leap-frogged out into a freshwater lake, the shallow waters held in abeyance via a certain volcanic rockscape. The freezing temperatures of the night had hardened the various mossy bofedal clumps, enough that I might venture just far enough from the shores. And I had sat within the magical puna landscape and filled my notepad with all manner of detail, and my camera with just a tiny taste of the High Andes.

Bofedal

Once again, referencing my notebook, running along uncannily parallel to last night's dream, I am now reminded of the sheer radiance and of the burgeoning aliveness of the place. I had noted the eruptive joy that I had felt at the moment that a small wading bird had alighted just a few metres from where I was sitting; it duly commenced to completely ignore me as I sketched away. The Diademed Plover had lain close to the top of a long list of hoped for wildlife, and had duly set the day upon a perfect course, excepting the pounding headache which never quite left me during my days at this altitude. I am reminded also of a niggling nose-bleed that would never quite relent.

Route out towards the lake.

The list of wading birds, the slightly less-buoyant Andean Swallows and Andean Lapwings, the various species of flamingo, the ducks, the various coots, the vast array of finches and other species, is both as immense in the notebook as it was in the dream. For this I am thankful, but also slightly curious.

Lake shoreline.

I had made the questioning observation that the higher-altitude Silvery Grebes could not possibly be of the same species as those I had seen two weeks previously, bobbing as a small raft upon the Pacific. The note, unknowingly 'supported' via far more copious and scientific observation, has since come to just fruition. I had, hours later, padded less assuredly back towards the lake's shoreline- the bofedal was fast softening under the quickening heat of the morning. A gem-like Andean Negrito flashed its primary flight-feathers, before dropping to the plain and substituting a zipping run for the labours of the air, a rich rufous-earthy back upon a muted charcoal body. The drier landscape was already quite awash with all manner of grey ground-tyrants, many sporting their own specific cap-come-nape-patch as a clue to species, many not. Somehow, defying the significantly enhanced drag of gravity, way up in the eye-scouring blueness, a pair of juvenile Mountain Caracaras were whirling to no immediately apparent purpose. The far more handsome, and thus absent, adults were having none of it!  

Receding peaks 

Even the most seemingly insignificant minor-slopes were able to conjure a throbbing heat to the temples, drawn from the dull ache at the back of the skull, but the effort was quite rightly deemed worthy, merely for the greatly enhanced proximity of a resplendent Black-hooded Sierra-finch. Surely these creatures had somehow thieved something of the essence of the setting sun upon their backs? Even so a scuttling Vizcacha might still set the heart to yet greater pounding, and the skull to yet greater pain, as it scaled a sheer slope as if 'twere horizontal; nether rabbit nor mouse, instead some bizarre other rodent-type, equipped also with a miniature beaver-type-tail to waft at the air in departure.

Moss as hard as pumice.

Defying the almost prickly-pumice qualities of the strange mountain-moss, I sat to permit the pounding to subside, becoming aware, as I did so, of a family of humbug Puna Tinamous, neither bustard nor grouse, but either way appearing instantly very akin to a snack-upon-legs. "Such plump and vulnerable-seeming birds will certainly have evolved their own peculiar means of surviving," I considered, although at this sort of range none was immediately evident. The flashing flight of the earlier noted White-tailed Shrike-Tyrant again animated the puna-desert-dreamscape. Although perches were at a premium this bird evidently had a greater claim than did most other species; there was a multitude of ground-tyrants and shrike-tyrants from which to choose. No sooner had it alighted than it was beating ten bells out of some uncertain former lifeform.

Andean Flicker nest holes.

I had already noted the 'unlikely' holes, drilled high into the ridge, but it was the echoing call which finally drew me to the ground-feeding activity of several Andean Flickers. Although the landscape was quite immense the absence of sound was, at times, almost more so. I had watched the towering twisters wandering intermittently across the desert but, even then, it wasn't until I had determined to stand and embrace the form as it whipped about my ears that I could actually hear the fine scattering hiss of sandy particles, severely chastising any areas of exposed flesh. The experience left me with sand-choked hair and much grittiness about my face, ears, hands and clothes, in the ears and especially in the mouth!

Andean sunset.

I had planned to spend the best part of the final day walking to Lake Chungara, but opted instead to abandon the effort when yet another semi-feral dog set about snapping at my heels. I had heard the beast drumming across the sands from more than half-a-mile away, and that was before it had commenced barking its war cry into the void. The distance afforded me just time enough to arm myself with a few meatier stones. Our brief engagement saw me landing at least two significant blows upon the damned creature, before a sharp whistle brought the whole affair to a much-appreciated conclusion. Whatever the damage, clearly I hadn't, at least not significantly, damaged the bugger's legs. I know that one stone thudded into the side of the ultra-angry face- I think that I had winced at the sound of stone upon tooth- but far better that unsightly mess than my ankles, I had reasoned. Whatever the damage, the unseen whistler never thought to question my hastily-elected approach to evading dog-attack. At lower altitudes I had grown accustomed to arming myself with any from the most thorny of boughs, but up here this more benign and defensive manoeuvre had been denied me.

Route to Cotacotani.

It was at the point of perhaps greatest isolation that I was, I had initially thought, once again to be 'challenged,' but this time it was by a virtual dot at the foot of a low line of arid hills. Thankfully this beast remained put. Upon closer binocular inspection this transpired to be another of the lama-like Guanaco- I was impressed that the creature had so distantly and instantly recognised me as a potential threat, even though I was far from this. I took the time to sit for a while, by the icy crystal stream which I had been tracking, and there I noted my only Red-backed Sierra-Finch. It was instantly separable from the wealth of alternative finch species that had earlier been on offer, a stunningly rich-red saddle, set behind a soft grey neck and head. I had known that such a sighting was almost a 'gift,' but had not yet realised quite how sought-after these jewels had become. I know that I was able to spend fully fifteen minutes studying the bird, as it scraped about at the edge of a chiselled bank. And all the while my presence was punctuated by the distant bark of the solitary Guanaco.

Atacama Desert.

A decidedly more substantial twister was seen to be gathering strength some distance off to the west. I watched with mounting interest as the rising cloud slowly resolved itself into one caused by a wandering Land Rover. I think that I must have watched the vehicle's approach for well over a minute and a half before there was even the faintest hint of a mechanical growl- all the while my sentinel was echoing 'his' warning into the vastness. It was only as the engine became a background constant that I thought to look more carefully at an 'islet' of isolated boulders rising at the centre of the valley.

Track to Parinacota.

Upon a far closer inspection of the rocky cluster I noted that the shadows here cast, such as they were, had now assumed rather more of a fluid presence, seeming almost to ripple across the surface of the nearest and the most sheer of the visible surfaces. Assuming the strange spectacle to be some sort of trick of the rising heat, I watched on, almost absent-mindedly awaiting some sort of credible resolution or further clarification. The shadow, almost dreamesque at this juncture, appeared to lengthen and then it twisted and thinned outwards, stretching itself almost to breaking point before contracting into the form of some sort of creature... a cat maybe?

So, this had been the cause for alarm, and all the while I had been unaware. Had the approaching jeep not drawn my attention back towards the outcrop it is most unlikely that I ever would have spied the feline. It transpired that the 'shadow' had in fact been more cat than shadow, albeit more visibly liquid than solid, and so I concluded this to be the form of a black Jaguar. I pressed my eyes to my binoculars, as if attempting to push them clear through the lenses and ever closer to the beast. I caught the eyes ever so briefly- green, I thought- and in that moment it was evident in such casual behaviour, that the beast had all the while been watching me. As the Land Rover drew level with the mound so the ripple shimmered one final time and then simply 'melted' into the flat surface of rock.

Before shaving and drinking heavily, or perhaps after drinking heavily?

I mentioned the sighting to my driver, Gary, before we set off down to the lower altitudes of Putre, where the altitude sickness would thankfully decline to follow. At first he reacted sceptically, but would not completely write off the likelihood of such a cat. So, before setting off, we slowly circled the mound, which conspired to be rather more diminutive than it had at first appeared, certainly no higher than ten feet at its peak. We twice drove round the perimeter and at such a slow and meticulous pace, never once glimpsing so much as a dubious shadow, but still Gary remained adamant upon us staying put, securely inside the jeep.

Framed within one of the vehicle's wing mirrors I was confronted by a vaguely familiar face, spied for the first time in several days, and I was curious to note that so much unkempt hair and patchy beard had afforded it something of a 'different' persona. All that it needed now was some sort of beret, maybe the barrel of a rifle peeping out from behind a right shoulder?

A far more benign Putre.

Scratching away at a mat of unaccustomed facial hair, I squinted into the light; suddenly so much older those features appeared in the bathroom mirror. Head cropped tight, and jawline uncharacteristically clean shaven? Instantly, I regretted having glanced at the offending wing-mirror.

Best get some of this down, before the memory fades...